This weekend my town hosted The Justice Conference, put on by tiny college that’s a branch of the church I attended my first few years in Oregon. I didn’t go to the conference so I have no right to pick it apart, nor is that my aim.
Undeniably justice is a hot topic now in Christianity. Some will say it should always be a hot topic, but it ebbs and flows. Recently it has regained steam thanks in large part to Shane Claiborne. When his first book hit the scene it seemed like every college-aged Christian (if not busy on their spiritual memoir) was trying to figure out how to end poverty and inner city ghettos.
One good thing the justice trend is doing is getting people active in their faith. It lights a fire under believer’s behinds (though it may be worth noting that the flame burns so hot it quickly burns out) and gets them interested in doing more than sitting around in coffee shops and doing Bible studies.
Having a conference on justice is great – even with the topic being hot it still gets neglected in my opinion. I will say there is only so much talking about justice you can do, as it’s much more of an action thing. Though for Christians this usually means supporting various organizations or volunteering for different programs or ministries attempting to right social wrongs.
But here’s the downfall – as I’ve written about before we can’t rely on programs or institutions to clean up the messes of our world. A long time ago I wrote about how a mega-church discovered that all the programs they offered did little to inspire spiritual growth. You can have great curriculum and conferences and fantastic sermons coupled with weekly growth programs – but what makes disciples is, well, another disciple.
Similarly, I think the church has begun to rely on ministries and programs to do the dirty work of working with people considered less than ourselves – as the programs allow us to help them from a distance. And I think if we want to see true justice, if we want to really live out all those verses on feeding the hungry – then we should consider doing it one-on-one.
Remember, the Kingdom Jesus spoke of spreads more like a wildfire – from tree to tree – rather than a bomb that gets ’em all at once.
So no, I’m not suggesting we dismantle all of non-profits and organizations and missions trying to help the world’s needy and bring a little justice, but I do think it’d do us good to stop equating social justice solely with well-designed programs. Which, naturally, complicates things and requires more than spare change or a checkbook. And even worse, I don’t have the answers to how that fleshes out exactly – as that is moreso for each person to discover how it works for them.
What do you think of the social justice trend? Do you agree we are overly reliant upon institutions? How do we take care of the poor and needy beyond cash donations?